Welcome to this preseason edition of the 2012 Footballguys Roundtable. Feel free to eavesdrop as various staff members share their views on a range of topics in discussion format. This week, they touch on the following:
Some Running Back Situations No. 2 Wide Receivers Who Could Move to No. 1 Who Is the Proper Handcuff? Hunches
Some Running Back Situations
A number of running back situations are unclear here in June, but people drafting now don't have the luxury of waiting to see how things play out. We're necessarily guessing a bit here, but how do you think the running back workloads will break down in the following situations?
Saints: Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory.
MATT WALDMAN: Sproles will be far and away the most productive back. Pierre Thomas will continue to be the first-off-the-bench sub because he's so good at the draw and screen game that the Saints run so well. Ingram is still rehabbing a second knee surgery in three years and may not be healthy for camp. Ivory will play the limited Ingram role of Ingram go.
BOB HENRY: Unfortunately, I don't think much will change with regards to the Saints backfield. We can probably expect to see Jed Collins even vulture a touchdown or two to make matters even worse. That said, in PPR leagues, Sproles seems certain to catch another 70-80+ balls so he's a solid RB2 pickup. If Ingram can ever get and stay healthy, then he could get 150 to 200 carries. I was gung-ho on him last year and missed, so while I still like him as a talent, I'm more skeptical that he'll get 200+ carries, much less stay healthy for the 16-game run. So I've penciled him in for around 160 carries with Pierre Thomas filling the cap finishing with 110 carries (and Sproles 75). With Joe Vitt as an interim coach, it's hard to say if the Saints will veer far from their offensive tendencies under Sean Payton. I'm betting nothing changes and, if anything, it's more of the Drew Brees show than even last year.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: Ingram, although disappointing as a rookie will be the top rusher and have an increased role in the passing game. Sproles will have a similar role to a year ago and get five to six carries per game with about five receptions. He will not likely score nine touchdowns this year. Pierre Thomas will also have a role with around seven carries and three receptions per game. In other words, it will be a full blown RBBC for the Saints, who will have one of the most prolific passing offenses again.
DAVE LARKIN: Let's start with Mark Ingram. Although I believe in his talent, I don't believe that his injuries are as straightforward as they are made out to be. He may miss the beginning of training camp and has already missed important reps in his rookie year. I agree with Matt's take on him. If Ingram remains healthy for the entire season — a dicey proposition — then he could reach 800 yards with four to five touchdowns. The real value in the backfield remains Darren Sproles. The diminutive back showcased his talents in 2011 with his new offense and proved his status as the best free agent acquisition. Sproles should equal his production from last season. Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory are both interesting players, but I expect both to cancel each other's value out for the most part. Neither will be worth considering in fantasy leagues as more than a depth option.
JEFF PASQUINO: Darren Sproles dominates pass targets, becoming almost like a slot receiver. Not too much as a rusher but enough to prove valuable. I see him with 80 catches and 80 rushes. Mark Ingram gets the majority of the rushing workload with about 160 carries but few receptions. Pierre Thomas gets most of what is left with Ivory stashed on the bench in case either Thomas or Ingram get hurt again.
WILL GRANT: Like most of the folks here, I think Sproles is the guy to have from New Orleans — especially in PPR leagues. He's easily the most consistent back on the roster, and I would be surprised to see anything less than RB2 fantasy numbers from him. I like Ingram, but as Matt points out, he is still recovering from injury and he may get off to a slower start this season.
Redskins: Roy Helu, Tim Hightower, Evan Royster.
MATT WALDMAN: Back to the donut shop for these backs, who will try to guess the right flavor Mike Shanahan wants on his desk on Friday morning so they can earn time. The more donuts they guess right of the dozen, the higher their workload. I think Helu has a good gauge of Shanahan's palette and will earn at least 50-60 percent of the carries. I'm not sure Hightower will be healthy enough to make regular trips to the donut shop and he also might lack a feel for Shanahan's palette while trying to get his legs back. However, he's a crafty veteran so I think he can get up to speed enough to produce if called upon. I like Royster's understanding of the game, but I'm not sure he has the burst Shanahan wants from a starter. He ate too many donuts made with Muscle Milk during his senior year at Penn State and stubbornly refused to cut weight when asked by Joe Paterno and staff. If he saves the donuts for his coach and eats more veggies, he could return to his underclassman form and have a bigger impact. However, I'm not betting on it, donuts are too tasty for a young guy in his early 20s.
BOB HENRY: With Shanahan, who really knows? It could end up being Alfred Morris or Tristan Davis. I fully expect Helu to run with the job out of the gate with Hightower getting plenty action on third downs. I'm not at all confident that he'll stay healthy or keep the job all season with a coach like Shanahan.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: Hightower was the most reliable running back at the start of the season, but played in only five games. Helu was mostly ineffective the first half of the season, but really came on in the second half with three straight 100-yard games and 37 receptions. I believe that Helu will be given the first shot and could be the main back if he runs with the opportunity. Royster should be the third option and not be used significantly unless Helu or Hightower get injured.
DAVE LARKIN: All talk of donuts aside, I think the way this backfield will shake out is quite straightforward. Roy Helu will begin the season as the primary ball carrier, playing around 65 percent of the snaps. Nobody knows where it will go from there, lest you claim to be able to predict the mystical powers of the Shanahanigan tribe.
JEFF PASQUINO: I think it will be a 50-50 split here with Hightower having more value in PPR leagues as he is much better on passing downs. Next to nothing left for Royster.
WILL GRANT: I can't get excited about Roy Helu, no matter how many donuts he brings his coach. If he's healthy, I have a feeling that Hightower will finish the season as the team's No. 1 fantasy back, but this feels like just enough of a RBBC to drive fantasy owners crazy all season.
Lions: Jahvid Best, Kevin Smith, Mikel LeShoure.
MATT WALDMAN: Best as the lead and Smith as the change-up. I'd think of Smith as a much more dynamic Pierre Thomas when healthy. I think Best has top-15 potential and if Smith earns the lead role due to injury, there's no drop-off in this system. I'm waiting for the (ahem) cloud to clear with LeShoure before I'm considering him. Watch Joique Bell if LeShoure's injury and legal outlook remains hazy.
BOB HENRY: I would love to count on Best, but I can't. You shouldn't either. Anything out of him should be viewed as a bonus. My chips are on LeShoure running with the job. The Lions will use two backs, and probably all three if they're all healthy. I've projected LeShoure with 160 carries (also taking into consideration that he'll probably miss a couple of games for his offseason misdeeds), Best with 75 and Smith with 60. I don't expect any of them to play all 16 games, but whoever is playing could easily be a low RB1 play each week.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I think that similar to the Saints, the running back value is diminished for the Lions, who will again be among the league leaders in passes thrown. With so much focus on the concussion issue, I would hate to rely on Best, who more than any other running back could be shut down with one big hit. Smith has been solid, but I expect that LeShoure will be their best running back if and when he gets the chance. I think that the team will limit Best's number of plays and all three could be involved.
DAVE LARKIN: Jahvid Best flashed some of his immense talent in spurts last season but the ever-present threat of a concussion problem recurring this season has to make fantasy owners wary of him. Fortunately, the Lions welcome back Mikel Leshoure who, if he can keep his focus on football, can be the primary ball-carrier on this team. Kevin Smith's injury history makes him too difficult to trust; just when he began to get into his stride last year, he was promptly and unceremoniously knocked off his pedestal again. As Stephen mentioned, there won't be much value in the Lions rushing attack as long as their passing offense remains at its current potency.
JEFF PASQUINO: Best is the guy to have here, and LeShoure will contribute about 30 percent.
WILL GRANT: I think Best plays hard this season, but eventually falls to injury again and retires after another disappointing year. LeShoure has a solid chance to be a legitimate fantasy back, if he can get his off-the-field issues under control. Kevin Smith is probably the 'safest' pick, but that's not saying much in this crew. I've targeted LeShoure and Smith in a couple leagues, and you can land both pretty cheap right now.
Patriots: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead, Joseph Addai.
MATT WALDMAN: Vereen was always the more talented back than Ridley. He also has a good track record as a receiver. I think he's capable of a 50 percent share of the workload and Ridley (35), Woodhead (10), and Addai (5) in that order making up the other 50 percent.
BOB HENRY: I'm projecting Vereen with 170 carries and Ridley with 120. Ridley had a much better rookie season, but Vereen was slowed out of the gate by injuries and he never got back on track. Now 100 percent, Vereen should shine during the offseason and emerge as the lead back, or at least the 1a to Ridley's 1b. Addai no longer has the burst to be anything more than a situational, Kevin Faulk-style of back. Unfortunately, the Patriots don't throw to their backs much. They had 37 receptions as a group last year. It could be Woodhead or Addai for a roster spot, but the chances of either one emerging as a lead back are slim. Vereen is my guy.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: The Patriots follow the same game plan as the Saints and Lions, with even a greater number of candidates at running back. I have never been a huge fan of Steven Ridley and look at him as having limited capabilities, similar to Green-Ellis. Vereen, although having minimal playing time a year ago seems much more capable and I can't forget Ridley's fumble against the Broncos that probably kept him off the field in the Super Bowl. I see Addai and Woodhead as emergency insurance if the other two get injured or can't hold onto the ball. The committee potential combined with the number of passes will make it easy for me to look elsewhere for running backs.
DAVE LARKIN: Joseph Addai may not make the opening day roster, so I think it is safe to eliminate him. His strengths lie in his pass protection skills, but he lacks any kind of second gear. Shane Vereen has been the topic of much discussion recently, and he is the most talented back on the roster. Vereen can bring a skill set to the running back position that New England has not had in a long time. He has the best shot at securing the lead back job to the tune of 150 carries. Danny Woodhead will continue to hold some value in PPR leagues as a third down back who has surprising grit between the tackles. Stevan Ridley made the best impression of the Patriots backs last season when he played, and his role will entail a rotational platoon with Vereen.
JEFF PASQUINO: I see Ridley as the next Green-Ellis, rushing in the fourth quarter with the lead and getting goal line looks. Vereen will pass Woodhead on the depth chart and have scatback-PPR value if he can block for Brady; otherwise, Woodhead gets in the mix. I don't know if Addai even makes it on the roster, let alone the field.
WILL GRANT: I have a feeling that Vereen will get a legitimate shot to be the top back and he'll grab that role with both hands and finish the season as the top fantasy back from the Patriots. Ridley may have some decent games, but I feel that Vereen is the back to have from New England this year.
Dolphins: Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, Lamar Miller.
MATT WALDMAN: On paper, I like the order as Bush with 12-15 touches per game, Thomas with 8-10, and Miller 4-6. On the field, I'm beginning to think if Miller continues to look good and Thomas still has issues with blitz pickup it could be Thomas with 6-8 and Miller with 6-8 and then Miller out-playing Thomas for more. I'd probably target Bush and then consider Miller as a swing for the fences value.
BOB HENRY: Bush finished the season so strong last year that I think he'll get every opportunity to do the same this season. The key with him is always going to be staying healthy. I'm not optimistic that will happen, but he still has good RB2 value as long as it doesn't become a 3-headed monster with Thomas eating into his first and second down work and Miller getting more work in passing situations.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: The Dolphins lack of play makers at the receiving position encourages a longer look at this trio. Reggie Bush had his best season averaging 14 carries and 70 yards rushing per game while adding 43 receptions. However, similar to Sproles you almost expect Bush's average yards per carry to drop as he averaged 5.0 a year ago, 1.0 yard per carry more than his career average. With two young early round draft picks waiting in the wings, the Dolphins will very likely use all three significantly.
DAVE LARKIN: How can you not like Reggie Bush going into 2012 after the show he put on in his career resurrection year of 2011? Bush was dynamic both inside and outside the tackles as a runner and fluid and as quick as ever as a receiver. Bush will lead this team in overall running back touches. I don't think Daniel Thomas will be a complete afterthought, though. He provides a decent counter punch to Bush's speed. I expect Thomas to carry the ball 140-160 times for approximately 750 yards. Lamar Miller needs refinement in his game before a larger role is given to him; his role will probably be restricted to return man duties to begin.
JEFF PASQUINO: Reggie Bush will see a ton of touches, including many targets as a receiver. Miami has little at wide receiver now that Brandon Marshall is gone, so there are plenty of targets to go around. Miller will even see some as a receiver. Thomas will spell Bush and run hard between the tackles, but 70 percent or more goes to Bush who has one of his best seasons as a pro.
WILL GRANT: I think Reggie Bush is a great pick in PPR leagues. He is pure money in that type of league because the Dolphins are going to have some challenges throwing the ball, and the short passing, check-down game is going to be a bigger part of their offense than they want. Bush benefits the most from that type of situation, and I think he's going to surprise a lot of people this year.
Colts: Donald Brown, Delone Carter.
MATT WALDMAN: I think Carter is better suited for a power running game, physically, but I think Brown was the more mentally prepared player and it showed last year. As it stands now, I'm going to say it will be a 60-40 split in Brown's favor, but I'm a bigger long-term fan of Carter's power.
BOB HENRY: I have to be honest that I had essentially written off Brown as a bust right about the time he emerged last year as a capable and versatile back for a really bad Colts team. Brown impressed me a little, if not simply because my expectations were so low. I'm not sure he'll hold up for 16 games, but he'll tease 200 carries if he does. I think Carter solves his fumbling problems and picks up 120+ carries and probably becomes a factor at the goal-line if Brown falters even the slightest. Luck could help turn things around quickly for the Colts. If so, one of these two could benefit greatly and become an excellent buy-low for RB2 production.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: The good news is that at their current ADP of 99 and 154, you can get the top two Colt running backs for a fairly cheap price. Even though expectations are extremely low, the offense has to be better than a year ago when Brown averaged a respectable 4.8 yards per carry. He has improved his YPC each year and was a first-round selection. Carter had more opportunities in the first half of last season and Brown finished the year in that role. I expect Brown to be the top running back and project about a two to one carry split.
DAVE LARKIN: He's not special by any means, but Donald Brown is the best running back the Colts have. Andrew Luck will be smart enough to audible to runs against favorable defensive fronts, allowing the Colts improved offensive line to blow holes open for Brown. Delone Carter needs to come into camp rearing to go after his disappointing rookie year.
JEFF PASQUINO: Not much to see here, and I think Vick Ballard can even have some value. I think this is almost all about Andrew Luck. Brown will likely start the year as the top guy but he just is not that effective. I would rather have Carter or Ballard for potential upside, but there is little chance of that for this year.
WILL GRANT: Donald Brown hasn't really proven himself, despite having several opportunities to assume the No. 1 RB role in Indianapolis. I look for these guys to split the carries about 60-40 in favor to Carter.
Panthers: Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams.
MATT WALDMAN: I'm excited to see this quartet of runners from a football purist's perspective (I'm adding Cam Newton and Mike Tolbert to the mix) because there's a thought that Carolina will use all four in the backfield in the shotgun much like Oklahoma does (it is called the Diamond). It is a good formation to run from and can force defenses to play it straight rather than try any exotic blitzes. I'm asking for too much here, but if there were a team that could run the wishbone in the NFL, boy could Carolina give it a go. I think Stewart is the best fantasy back because he proved last year to have the best rapport as a receiver from the backfield. However, I think none of these backs are inside the Top 20 at the position (Stewart and Williams somewhere between 20-30) because Newton and Tolbert will likely steal red zone opportunities. If two of these four players get hurt then I'd be all over whoever owns that remaining healthy player for a trade.
BOB HENRY: Never have I seen a more frustrating, maddening fantasy dilemma. Look for more of the same. If DeAngelo Williams had even the slightest chance of underachieving, there would be more hope for Stewart, but I'm fully expecting another year with Williams having a slight edge in carries, touchdowns to be fairly equal, and Stewart continuing to make up some ground with his third-down work and subsequent production catching the ball. Mike Tolbert will probably steal more from Cam Newton at the goal line than from either of these two, although he could be a threat to Stewart's third-down numbers considering how productive he was in San Diego in the passing game.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: These two are both talented, but the shared approach has continued to limit their success. A season ago, with Can Newton running for 14 touchdowns, they finished 25th and 26th respectively. Therefore, if you anticipate Newton scoring less, one or both of these guys could improve. I think that they both will stay involved and will only gain significant value if the other gets hurt.
DAVE LARKIN: A backfield close to my own heart, but very frustrating from a fantasy standpoint. As Jeff mentioned, Stewart enters his contract year and despite statements that he wants to remain a Panther long-term, his best move is to test the open market. Williams will be his usual self and both backs may even see their touchdown numbers increase with a more running back-oriented goal line offense on the cards. If I had to choose, I would choose Stewart by a hair.
JEFF PASQUINO: Stewart is in a contract year and I think he comes out guns blazing to show the NFL how valuable he will be in the free agent market next year. He will benefit the most from having Mike Tolbert at fullback, and also not having Cam Newton vulture 14 touchdowns again. Williams is the better receiving and long distance threat. Both are solid backs to own with top-20 upside for each.
WILL GRANT: Another mess that I want to avoid this year. There's also Mike Tolbert, who had excellent success in San Diego last season. He may steal just enough fantasy value from Steward and Williams this year to make all of them lousy fantasy prospects this season.
Buccaneers: Doug Martin, LeGarrette Blount
MATT WALDMAN: I think Martin drive Blount out of Tampa by the season opener but the worst case for Martin is a 55-60 percent workload with the rest of the backs on the depth chart getting the crumbs. I see Martin as the one runner most likely to earn offensive rookie of the year if Trent Richardson doesn't play to top expectations.
BOB HENRY: I fully expect Martin to dominate the touches in Tampa. That's not to say that Blount will disappear, but I think Martin is better in every phase of the game — pass protection, goal line, catching the ball, etc. Blount may still get 60 to 100 carries, but I'm fully onboard with the idea of Martin having a Ray Rice-like workload for Greg Schiano and my projections will reflect that.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: Like Matt and Bob, I think that Martin is the superior talent in Tampa Bay and I expect both him and the Buccaneers to have good seasons offensively. I project at least a 2-to-1 advantage for Martin in this competition and would not be surprised at even more opportunities for him.
DAVE LARKIN: The new guard has arrived in Tampa Bay. Greg Schiano is a no-nonsense coach who will breed a mentality of hard work in Tampa. LeGarrette Blount does not strike me as that kind of player. I invite him to prove me wrong, and he may do that. For now, the smart play is to take Doug Martin in every draft you can and expect workhorse numbers from him (250 carries, 1,100 yards, 6-8 touchdowns).
JEFF PASQUINO: Martin is your guy, although Blount should not be counted out. We have all seen rookies enter the league with promise — just last year with Ryan Williams and Mikel LeShoure — only to lose all of it due to injury. Martin is slated for 85 percent or more of the workload but Blount has great handcuff value.
WILL GRANT: Blount may see more action early in the season, but by the end of the year, Martin is going to be the top guy in Tampa.
No. 2 Wide Receivers Who Could Move to No. 1
There are a number of NFL teams with strong pairs of receivers — so strong, in fact, that the guy most people think of as the No. 2 receiver on the team could outshine his teammate.
Which No. 2 receivers have the best chance to become their team's top receiver this year?
Jordy Nelson vs. Greg Jennings?
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: Jordy Nelson is really good, but Greg Jennings is still the top guy for me in Green Bay. Jennings missed three games and was injured early in another and still caught only one less pass than Nelson. Nelson was primarily a fantasy force because he scored 15 touchdowns. Since he had averaged two touchdowns per season in his first three years, expect that number to drop significantly this year.
Victor Cruz vs. Hakeem Nicks?
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I think that Nicks is also the best receiver for the Giants. I like Cruz as well, but suspect that he would be more challenged to get open if Nicks missed long periods of time on the field.
WILL GRANT: Even before the injury to Nicks, I think Victor Cruz had a legitimate shot to finish the season with better fantasy numbers than Hakeem Nicks. Nicks is a stud and ranks up near the top of the WR food chain. However, Cruz finished as the No. 4 fantasy WR last season, and is definitely someone that opposing defenses have to contend with on every play. Unless you have two shut-down corners, one of these guys is going to burn you. Cruz and Nicks are both solid choices at wide receiver, and it reminds me of the years that Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald were both top fantasy wide receivers. You couldn't go wrong with either of them, and you can't go wrong with either Cruz or Nicks.
Julio Jones vs. Roddy White?
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: Julio Jones is talented enough to overtake Roddy White as the leading receiver for the Falcons. White's targets have increased every year for the past five from 137 all the way up to 191 a year ago. Even with the disparity in targets (White had 89 more than Jones), Jones had the same number of touchdowns and only 337 fewer yards. When you also take into account that Gonzalez is 36 years old, that adds to Jones' opportunity for more targets. I am expecting Gonzalez to have another reasonably good season, but it should be noted that no NFL tight end 36 years or older has ever caught more than 20 passes. Jones will garner more targets and be even more productive in 2012.
JEFF PASQUINO: I like Jones to pass White in value this year. Both are very productive but I see so much explosion and potential when Jones has the ball. White is very consistent but Jones can scare a defensive coordinator to death.
Dez Bryant vs. Austin Miles?
BOB HENRY: If Dez Bryant stays healthy, there's no doubt in my mind that he'll surpass Miles Austin's production — especially in the red zone. Bryant has the physical potential to have a Calvin Johnson-like season and it looks like he's in good position to finally move into that elite fantasy receiver range.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I believe that most fantasy players have already rated Bryant ahead of Austin, but I still prefer to own Austin, who always seems to be open when Romo needs a big play and looks his way. Bryant has showed improvement and is considered the much better athlete, but with him I will take a wait-and-see attitude, even if I wait too late, as I remain unable to trust him on or off the field.
JEFF PASQUINO: Dez Bryant is ahead of Miles Austin for me. He just needs better conditioning (he was almost always better in the first half last season), and he has been working on it after admitting that it was an issue. He is much better at getting the ball in the Red Zone and he has a bigger catch radius. Austin always feels like a slot guy to me with more quicks than separation skills. Give me Bryant this year.
Brandon Lloyd vs. Wes Welker?
MATT WALDMAN: In PPR leagues, I think Wes Welker still has the clear edge, but I think touchdowns could be heavily weighted in favor of Lloyd. If Lloyd reaches 1,000-1,100 yards with as few as 60 receptions, he could challenge Welker for that title of top-producing fantasy receiver.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I will be surprised if Brandon Lloyd is even competitive with Wes Welker this season. In four out of the last five seasons, Welker has caught over 100 passes and has averaged 111 per season. With Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez being always available for Tom Brady I just can't see significant opportunity for Lloyd to have a huge year. Those three caught 291 of Brady's 401 completions. Branch who is still around and also caught 50, a number that will be tough for Lloyd to reach.
Jeremy Maclin vs. DeSean Jackson?
BOB HENRY: In my mind, Jeremy Maclin is already the No. 1 receiver for the Eagles. He is one of my favorites if you're looking for a receiver that could be a fantasy WR1 that can be drafted for a WR2 price.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I agree with Bob that Maclin is already the top wide receiver for the Eagles, especially in PPR leagues.
JEFF PASQUINO: I cannot agree more about Maclin. I've been watching the Eagles for years, and he is their top guy — just not quite the home run threat that Jackson is on a given play. Remember that Maclin was not feeling well last year with a strange illness and he was underweight all season long. I expect a monster year for him and a top-10 fantasy finish is well within his reach.
MATT WALDMAN: Maclin is more likely to collect a high count of receptions and now that he's fully healthy, I think he'll rebound from last season's fantasy drought.
Antonio Brown vs. Mike Wallace?
MATT WALDMAN: Brown, like Maclin, is a more versatile threat in the middle of the field with even more dynamic skill after the catch than the ultra-speedy Wallace. The change in offensive scheme with the arrival of Todd Haley could also have an effect on Wallace's numbers, although I have nothing to note about whether there's true indication this will be the case. I just know Roethlisberger trusted Brown a great deal last year and Haley is trying to get Roethlisberger to stay in the pocket, which is probably indicative of a more controlled passing game and less rolling out and chucking it deep to Wallace after buying enough time to wear out a safety.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I'll stick with Wallace over Brown, unless he continues to sulk too long this summer. He provides similar production in the short game to Brown and is a much speedier guy who can get open deep. He averages 18.7 yards per catch for his three year career and has scored 24 touchdowns, while Brown averages 15.0 yards per catch and has two touchdowns in two seasons.
JEFF PASQUINO: In Pittsburgh, Brown has much better value for his average draft position and I think he can come very close to what Mike Wallace did last year. Even if Brown just falls short of Wallace-type production, give me that at WR20 or so on the ADP list over a guy still holding out, at least for now.
Torrey Smith vs. Anquan Boldin?
BOB HENRY: Anquan Boldin is probably still considered by most to be the No. 1 receiver for the Ravens, but Torrey Smith has far more upside in fantasy leagues. While he could regress after an excellent rookie campaign, I think he'll finish with more catches, yards and touchdowns than Boldin.
Who Is the Proper Handcuff?
In many leagues, a relatively cheap way to get depth is to back up your starter with his real-life backup. For example, if you draft Arian Foster, you can back him up with Ben Tate. That way, if Foster is injured, you've got an NFL starter to plug in to replace him, and he costs a lot less to draft than other NFL starters do.
But it's not always clear who the proper handcuff is to a given running back. What's the right answer in the following situations?
Atlanta: Jacquizz Rodgers or Jason Snelling?
MATT WALDMAN: I believe this will be a committee with Rodgers playing the Ahmad Bradshaw role and with Snelling as the Brandon Jacobs guy. This gives Rodgers more upside, but asking for top-15 upside is a stretch this year if Turner goes down.
BOB HENRY: I like Rodgers a lot, but I can't knock what Snelling brings to the table. I like Waldman's comparison to Bradshaw and Jacobs there.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: Snelling's role has decreased for each of the past two seasons, but Rodgers only had 57 carries in his rookie season. I lean toward thinking they each are involved if Turner is injured.
JEFF PASQUINO: I'd take Rodgers, especially in a PPR league. Snelling just isn't that effective and he's really not worth drafting in most formats.
WILL GRANT: I think Rodgers is the guy to have from Atlanta. Michael Turner will give up a lot more touches than people realize this year, and I think that Jacquizz Rodgers is the one who picks up the slack, especially in a PPR league. Snelling has always been okay as a fantasy back, but I think the right handcuff for Turner is the second year back.
Green Bay: Alex Green, or Brandon Saine?
MATT WALDMAN: Green has more talent, but he's still working through an ACL injury from last year. I think Saine is the guy to own this year, but Green will push him and Starks in 2013.
BOB HENRY: I like Green, but I get the feeling that Saine had a definite advantage going into camp this year because he's healthier. Once Green is good to go, I think he could make some noise and possibly challenge Starks.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I favor Green over Saine for the Packers when Green recovers from last October's ACL surgery. Green is one of the more attractive handcuffs to me as I have minimal confidence in James Starks who has managed only one touchdown over 16 games in two seasons with the Packers.
JEFF PASQUINO: This one isn't easy. I like Saine more but each of these guys is a flyer. Most of the work is for Starks, and Green Bay was happy to have next to no ground game last year. The running backs as a group scored only six touchdowns last year so I would not both too much here.
WILL GRANT: Saine had a couple nice appearances for Green Bay last year, but he was never more than a guy who played a series or two for Green Bay last season. Alex Green played even less. It's hard to say who will take over as the handcuff this season at this point. Saine is probably the guy that I'd want to have at this point, but Green could also be a solid pick.
Jets: Joe McKnight or Bilal Powell or Terrance Ganaway?
MATT WALDMAN: I don't know what the deal with Powell is because nothing has been said about him since he was drafted. That could be a bad sign or no sign at all. Based on the talent I've seen, I'd go Powell, McKnight, and Ganaway, but news reports indicate McKnight and Ganaway in that order.
BOB HENRY: McKnight seems to be in the best position to make some noise. He's been productive, even if in small doses, when given the opportunity. I'm certainly not sold on Greene, so McKnight could get onto the field on third downs and then expand and cut into Greene's workload. That Powell hasn't made any noise in that backfield is disconcerting for sure.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I doubt that I use a hand-cuff pick for any Jet backup. The three of them combine for less than 100 career carries over three cumulative seasons. McKnight is the only one with any NFL success and he gained almost half of his career yards in the meaningless final game in 2010 against Buffalo.
JEFF PASQUINO: Yikes — this screams committee if Shonn Greene went down. I don't like any of them to get more than 8-10 touches a game.
WILL GRANT: Wow. Can I pass on this one? McKnight is probably the best option, but when Matt says he thinks Powell is the most talented, that's the advice that I want to follow.
Eagles: Dion Lewis or Chris Polk or Bryce Brown?
MATT WALDMAN: I love this depth chart, perhaps the most talented in the league after Carolina. I'll say Brown, Lewis, Polk in that order, but I think it's capable of being any combo of the three. I'll lean on it being Brown, Polk, Lewis as next in the order of likelihood. I love Polk's game, but I think Brown is a better all-around talent.
BOB HENRY: I'll say Lewis but that's mostly because he has experience on his side. If Brown or Polk look good in protection during the preseason, then anything is possible.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: For this season, I prefer Lewis to win the No. 2 job for Philadelphia. Despite his limited play a year ago, I prefer his college success and year in the system over Polk who went undrafted because of shoulder concern and Brown, who has character concerns after his interesting career path to the NFL.
JEFF PASQUINO: I think Lewis and Brown would split the workload, but more throws would go to Jason Avant and Brent Celek. Remember that about a third of McCoy's value is as a receiver out of the backfield, and Vick runs too. I might take Lewis just in case but I don't like any real value here.
WILL GRANT: Brown is probably the No. 2 back here, but ultimately after Vick, the only reason to have Brown would be if McCoy goes down to injury. Brown would be a good handcuff choice, but he's just insurance right now.
Oakland: Mike Goodson or Taiwan Jones?
MATT WALDMAN: This is kind of tricky, because I love what I saw of Jones last preseason. He looked a little like Chris Johnson with his size and quickness. However, I'm leaning towards Goodson because he's an explosive back with versatility and more power.
BOB HENRY: Both. If (or when) McFadden gets hurt, I think Goodson will be the 1a to Jones' 1b. Goodson seems better equipped for a bigger workload and he catches the ball extremely well. Both have good speed, but Jones has elite speed which will make it hard for him to not see the field.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: Goodson and Jones are significantly different players from each other and from Darren McFadden. I suspect that Goodson will have a small role even with a healthy McFadden and Jones will play the third down role if McFadden goes down. Goodson to me is the safer pick with a higher floor and would be my choice as a McFadden hand-cuff, although unlike a lot of folks, I believe McFadden can play a full season.
JEFF PASQUINO: This would also likely be a split backfield, but I think Goodson is more stable than Jones. Jones is a scatback type with great speed but I don't see him holding up to a consistent workload. I'd see it 60-65 percent for Goodson and he would also get more of the goal line looks.
WILL GRANT: Goodson has been okay as a fantasy back, but he has never really progressed as a back you can count on. Maybe that's because he was the number three back in a one-two punch system, but of these two I'd say Taiwan Jones would be the guy that I'd want. With Michael Bush now in Chicago, Jones has a chance to fill in for Darren McFadden.
Seattle: Leon Washington or Robert Turbin?
MATT WALDMAN: If I have to choose from those two, I'll say Turbin; but I'm not completely confident in him as the answer, and I do like Tyrell Sutton and Kregg Lumpkin as considerations.
BOB HENRY: At this point I don't expect Washington's role to suddenly expand into more than what it has been. He's exceptional in that role and Turbin is like the carbon copy of Lynch and a good fit for this Seahawks team and offensive personality.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: Turbin is the easy choice for me in Seattle. I agree with Bob that Washington is who he appears to be. He has been two years with the Seahawks and has yet to have more than seven carries in a game.
JEFF PASQUINO: This really depends on how fast Turbin picks up third-down role as a blocker and receiver, but I see it as Turbin on first and second down at a minimum and then Washington on passing plays. Turbin may be worth more if he proves himself in the passing game, so I would take Turbin and hope for upside.
WILL GRANT: Washington at one point was a guy that people thought would be the back to have from Seattle. Instead, Lynch came to down and now Washington is not really on anyone's fantasy radar. Turbin is probably next year's backup, but this season, Washington is probably the true handcuff.
San Francisco: Kendall Hunter or Brandon Jacobs or Anthony Dixon or LaMichael James?
MATT WALDMAN: I think Hunter is the yardage guy and best fantasy prospect. Jacobs is the touchdown guy. James is an occasional change-up and Dixon will be looking for a job.
BOB HENRY: Hunter is my favorite, but I doubt they signed Jacobs or drafted James without a vision or plan. So, I agree — Dixon is the odd man out. Hunter-Jacobs is reminiscent to the Bradshaw-Jacobs tandem, but James is good enough to earn a piece of that pie, or possibly even relegate Jacobs to the end of the line.
STEPHEN HOLLOWAY: I thought that Hunter played well in his rookie season, but with the additions of Jacobs and James to the 49ers I doubt he has the 117 carries he had last year. I truly believe that this team will be very good and not have many outstanding fantasy producers. I expect that Gore's role will be decreased and he averaged 18 carries per game and had significantly reduced receptions in 2011. I will avoid hand-cuffs for the 49ers.
JEFF PASQUINO: Again, we are looking at a split role backfield. James is the fastest of them all and will get several chances at touches, if Gore is healthy or not. Jacobs — if he makes the final cuts over Dixon — would be the goal-line and short -yardage play, so I would take either of those in touchdown-heavy leagues. Hunter would get the most touches overall if Gore is lost, but I don't see more than 16 a game.
WILL GRANT: This feels like RBBC. I think Hunter is probably the guy who gets the most from a yardage perspective, but Jacobs is going to be a guy who vultures goal line touchdowns. Just from a pure fantasy perspective, I'd take Hunter.
We all like it when our hunches are ultimately proven right. Let's put a few of our current hunches on the record so that we can be vindicated in a few months, shall we?
DAVE LARKIN: I'll start. I think the Atlanta Falcons will finish in the NFC South cellar.
It's not as far-fetched as it appears to be. Out of the NFC South teams, I view the Falcons' roster as the weakest overall. The offense is undergoing an identity change from a run-first, pound-the-ball style to a pass-first, spread-it-out style. While I think new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter can bring a new dimension to the running game specifically with Jacquizz Rodgers earning a larger role, I just don't see it panning out. The offensive line is also a concern. The addition of Peter Konz is a coup for certain, but this line hasn't won me over just yet. Defensively, I think the team will miss the sure tackling ability of Curtis Lofton. Their pass rush hasn't improved and they will need it in this division that will challenge them constantly through the air.
JEFF PASQUINO: Felix Jones steals the show in Dallas. DeMarco Murray is yet to prove consistency or durability, and Jones actually played well towards the end of the year for the Cowboys.
WILL GRANT: Sticking with running backs, I think Darren McFadden will finish as a top-five fantasy running back. McFadden had over 750 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns over basically the first six games of the season. He played a little in game seven, but went down to injury and was lost for the season. Michael Bush picked up where he left off and had almost 1,500 yards himself. A healthy McFadden with a full season under his belt could put up 1,600 or more yards from scrimmage this season and 12-15 touchdowns. I won't go so far as to say he'll beat out Maurice Jones-Drew or Ray Rice, but he'll be up there this season for sure.
DAVE LARKIN: I'll make a quarterback-centric prediction and say that Peyton Manning won't be enough to lead the Broncos back to the playoffs this season.
Controversial one, I know, but I genuinely feel like when the media coverage is saturated with one man and one team for so long, people start to buy in. People want to see Manning return and be the Manning of old, slicing defenses to shreds on a whim. That could happen; then again, Manning could struggle with his neck and he may not complete a season. That is, after all, why the Broncos built the injury clause into the contract, stating that if Manning fails a physical in the preseason in the coming years, they can essentially void his deal on the spot. The Broncos face a challenging schedule as well, with games against Pittsburgh (rematch time), Houston, New England, New Orleans, Cincinnati and Baltimore — teams who are arguably among the best five from their respective conferences.
Amid the anticipation for Peyton Manning's triumphant return to the field is the equally lacking coverage of the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers. Both rosters were improved and the Chiefs have the defense to trouble Manning, in my opinion. The Chargers have the best chance to seize back their AFC West crown, however, with Rivers in his prime and a more potent defense (Melvin Ingram and Jarrett Johnson are notable additions). I am not saying the Broncos will crash and burn. In fact, I expect them to have a very solid season; it just may fall short of some people's expectations.
JEFF PASQUINO: Sticking with the quarterback theme, I believe that Alex Smith will push for a top-10 finish in fantasy thanks to reduced production from Frank Gore and big seasons from Randy Moss and Vernon Davis. Even Mario Manningham will contribute as both he and Michael Crabtree will share in a rejuvenated passing game.
A couple more? How about some surprise playoff participants?
DAVE LARKIN: I'll go with Tennessee to win the AFC South. It's there for the taking with a faltering Jacksonville and a rebuilding Indianapolis sure to be occupying the third and fourth positions in the division. If the Titans can split the series with Houston, they can use their comparatively softer schedule to reach eleven wins and seal the division crown. The gun-slinging style of Mr. Jake Locker should be at the helm of this offense before too long. Part of the reason I am making this prediction is the faith I have in Locker's talent. He's bold, gutsy and brave in the pocket, with a live arm. Adding Kendall Wright and the return of Kenny Britt from injury will make this offense potent. Defensively, the Titans are very sound. The defensive tackle duo of Karl Klug and Jurrell Casey were monstrous as rookies and should be better in 2012. Colin McCarthy and Akeem Ayers will be a fearsome pair in nickel packages, with the experience of Will Witherspoon to assist in base defenses. Houston are now the hunted as opposed to being the hunter, a shift in mental attitude that takes some adjustment. I wouldn't be shocked at all if the AFC South crown belongs to Tennessee in 2012.
JEFF PASQUINO: Sticking with the AFC, I'll say that Buffalo will make the postseason, most likely as a Wild Card, behind a top-10 defense and a two-headed rushing game (with contributions from Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller in the receiving game as well).
That will do it for this final preseason edition of the 2012 Roundtable. We'll see you back here during the regular season.